Sitting in the car in the parking lot of Washington Crossing Park, basking in the glorious — dare I say, addictive? — post-run euphoria, I finished saving the above collage to my camera roll and looked up to see the first drop of rain plop onto the windshield. Another kind of rush ran through my body: that pleased-with-yourself feeling you get when a gamble pays off.
Can you see the smug satisfaction in that selfie? I promise it’s there. 🧐
Not that running in the rain is terrible, but if you’ve visited the Delaware Canal lately when it’s thawed out and muddy as 🤬, you understand my desire to get up early and beat Sunday’s warm, wet weather forecast.
I had no trouble putting my custom Nikes on the path before 7AM. Amid my recent struggles with mental and physical health, running has been my go-to mood booster, and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do to celebrate 32 months of continuous sobriety.
As I drove out there at sunrise, I reflected a bit on my long history with this sport. I have never actually approached it as a sport, or considered myself a “real” runner, and now that I think about it, maybe that’s why it has always given me such joy. It’s like looking back at my basketball “career,” which ended on the JV team during my sophomore year in high school, and remembering nothing but smiles and good times with a diverse and eclectic group of girls.
This might sound like a “duh” statement to you, but I’m just now realizing how much I prefer activities that don’t demand to be taken so seriously. Or, maybe I’m just now coming to understand that I was the one being too serious and making all those rigid demands of myself and my lifestyle.
I know I let other people’s ideas and opinions about the “right” kind of fitness habits and the “optimal” physique define what “health” meant to me. I let outside noise fuel my pathological lack of easygoing good humor, about anything I did.
But, anyway, let’s get back to fun memories of running! In seventh grade, I competed in the big feeder-school track meet my high school held every year, wearing basic canvas Keds to win the girls’ 100-meter dash. 🤣 The two summers leading up to freshman year, I trained with the Niles West cross country team several mornings a week on the Morton Grove bike trails, and I’m not even sure why, but I suspect it had something to do with the delicious bran muffins, apple bread and Crystal Light that Coach Sloan used to serve us at her house after each workout. 😋
That might be how I got conditioned, like Pavlov’s dogs, to think immediately of food whenever I glimpse any type of finish line in the distance. With running, it’s always pizza. I always want pizza. Incidentally, I think we’re going to break down and order Jules Thin Crust again for dinner tonight.
Back when my daily routine involved running 6 miles on a treadmill at a “globo gym” — so, like, from ages 19-34 — I did not allow myself the luxury of pizza. I ran because I loved the intoxicating combination of rapid movement and upbeat music, but also because I wanted to be thin and lean and for everyone to admire how “in shape” I looked, and the first time I heard the phrase “You can’t out-train a bad diet,” it seared itself into my brain.
Somehow, that message translated into “NO PIZZA EVER,” but entire 12-packs of mother-effing wheat beer every weekend were A-OK. 🙄🙄🙄
Aside from my escalating alcohol problem, I was doing fine as a treadmill-running cardio-holic who occasionally signed up for 5Ks and one time actually won my age group with a mind-blowing time of 20:43 😳 (LOL, that will never happen again.) I was cool with how I looked and felt, which for me is really saying something. But then came the day that I redeemed a free session with this big, macho — dare I say, “douchey”? — personal trainer at the local medical center, and his assessment was that I was “wasting my youth” with running, and if I wanted to change my body, I needed to overhaul my entire exercise regimen.
🧠: “I didn’t know I needed to change my body! Oh no, my GOD; I must be fat!!!”
I will “yada yada” over the subsequent 10 years except to say I morphed into an out-of-control competitive fitness snob who posted her WOD score on Facebook every day and counted “blocks” and tracked “macros” in an effort to maintain six-pack abs. I spent who-knows-how-much money registering for local workout competitions and way-too-many hours stressing over said competitions, not to mention freaking out over the annual Open portion of the CrossFit Games.
Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with any of the above, and nobody is to blame for my choices except me. Because my mindset was f*cked-up and I had no sense of self-worth beyond the feedback I got from others, I never gave myself a chance to truly enjoy that hard-core XFit lifestyle. I was uptight all the time. I was intense, unforgiving and brutally judgmental (mostly of myself,) with no other side to balance that all out.
My idea of “balance” was to drink myself into oblivion, to create this false, fleeting state of relaxation where I could say “f*ck it” to the self-imposed pressure of perfection — so, going to another extreme in the pursuit of peace and calm. I see now how insane that was. I never actually slowed down or let my body restore itself naturally; I just kept mercilessly beating myself to a pulp, mentally and physically, in and out of the gym.
This, today, is honestly my lifestyle preference: running 32 minutes (in honor of 32 months 🥳) in the warm(ish) and dry morning air, to the strains of Lionel Richie, then doing a little yoga to (attempt to) open up my ornery hips, and then chowing down on some pizza. With dessert.
The consequences of this lifestyle, of course, are that at age 43, I wear a Size 10/12 instead of 6/8 and my limbs are beefier and my stomach looks like the stomach of a middle-aged woman who loves exercise and has to watch what she eats for health reasons — see previous post about IBS — but who has a sweet tooth and refuses to count or track or measure anything ever again — unless you’re talking about what size pizza to order.
Basically, this lifestyle has brought me back to my roots as a just-for-fun runner, sporting the same body shape as the mediocre sophomore “point guard” 🤣 who never thought twice about anything she ate, and didn’t feel any pressure to excel. Basketball was just a way to keep busy between volleyball and softball, which I thought were my best bets at a college scholarship, and therefore (*full-body clench*), they were serious business.
And, let’s not leave out the most important part of this lifestyle! Maybe it’s a sign of how far I’ve come, that this is almost an afterthought, but hey, kind of worth noting: I don’t drink anymore.
I’m alcohol free, going on three mother-effing years.
Would I sometimes prefer to escape mental and physical health struggles by pouring high-octane liquid down my throat and plummeting into the abyss? Sure. But unlike back in my drinking days, I now know that every moment of joy I experience, whether it’s out there running or at home eating — and however fleeting it might be — is 100% real.
Sobriety is very much like running. It’s even kinda like JV basketball! It’s something I’ve grown to love not because I have to do it or have any expectations for how it should turn out, but because I truly want it in my life!
What a gift. What a privilege. On this 32-month sober “anniversary,” I feel humbled. And grateful. And…ready to eat!